The Boston Celtics bench is bringing new life to their injury riddled season
Most fans do not think greatly about who their favorite team has suited up at the end of the bench. In a star-driven league, the All-Stars in the starting lineup are going to be the players who decide a win or a loss 9 nine times out of ten; not the league-minimum guys in sweats at the end of the bench.
However, as the season has taken it’s toll on the Boston Celtics starters, the bench unit and depth guys have stepped up and preserved Boston’s standing near the top of the Eastern Conference.
When Kyrie Irving went down with a knee injury on March 11; the Celtics added their superstar point guard to a list of injuries that already included All-Star Gordon Hayward, prized sophomore Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Since then the Celtics have limped along, clawing their way to a respectable 3-2 record including wins against playoff teams in Portland and Oklahoma City.
With a depleted roster, role players began to step up. The most notable being Marcus Morris, who has morphed into Paul Pierce; averaging 21.6 ppg during the five game stretch and made some clutch shots; including a game-winner over three defenders against Oklahoma City.
Morris has received criticism for his habit of shooting contested shots; but with a creator like Irving out, Boston is in need of a player that isn’t afraid to pull the trigger. Morris is shooting 43 percent from the field and a career high 38 percent from three; so he isn’t a black hole of inefficiency.
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Another player elevating his game has been Greg Monroe. I nearly wrote off Monroe as a Celtic a few weeks ago; but the big man has responded with strong play since. Monroe is averaging 9 ppg and 6 rpg in 17 mpg, and his per 36 minutes are terrific; 20 points and 12 rebounds per 36 on 56 percent shooting.
The mammoth Monroe gets buckets down on the block and gobbles rebounds on the offensive glass. His struggles on defense still limit his playing time; but he has been ready to rock when he comes off the bench.
While Monore and Morris are bench players; Shane Larkin fits the definition of a true depth player. Signed in the off-season after spending a season playing in Spain, the former University of Miami star was expected to be the third-string point guard behind Irving and Terry Rozier. With Irving out; Larkin has gotten more run off the bench and as Ian Raif noted, has averaged 8 ppg and 2 apg with 47 percent shooting from downtown over the last five games.
Larkin has embraced his role as a water bug point guard; harassing opponents by picking them up at half-court and buzzing around screens on defense. On offense he blasts off the bench with energy and attacks the basket, while also proving to be an adept shooter, hitting 39 percent of his threes this year.
Larkin biggest contributions came against Portland on Friday. After a sluggish third quarter, the Celtics brought in Larkin to start the fourth down by 12. Larkin calmly ran the point and recorded 9 points and 3 assists in the quarter to bring Boston back and steal the win over a team that had won 18 out of their last 20 at home.
Make no mistake, if Boston doesn’t have Irving and their other starters healthy this spring, they will not be going far in the playoffs. However, smart signings and trades over the last year have fleshed out the Celtics to the degree they can sustain injuries during the regular season and remain competitive.
If Boston secures home court advantage in the second round over Cleveland, the bench guys can take a bow.